John Oliver aired a segment on his HBO TV show – “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” taking a comedic yet excruciating look at the decline of local newspapers.
Just in case you missed it, here are the highlights:
- “The newspaper industry today is in big trouble. Papers have been closing and downsizing for years and that affects all of us.
- “A study of over 200 papers, found that between 2003 and 2014, the number of state house papers declined over 35 percent.”
- And this is the problem, “print ads are less popular with advertisers than they use to be, and online ads produce much less revenue. Between 2004 and 2014, newspaper gained 2 billion dollars in online ad revenue and unfortunately in that same period, they lost 30 billion in print revenue… And this has led to cutbacks in newsrooms.”
- “Extra digital demand being placed on journalists is now common throughout the industry.” If journalists are constantly required to write, edit, shoot videos and tweet, mistakes are going to get made.” For example:
- “It is clearly smart for newspapers to expand online, but the danger in doing that, is the temptation to gravitate to what gets the most clicks. News organizations badly need to have leaders that appreciate that what’s popular is not always what’s most important.” (e.g., puppies or Iraq)
- “A big part of the blame for this industry’s dire straits is on us and our unwillingness to pay for the work journalists produce. We’ve just grown accustomed to getting our news free and the longer that we get something for free, the less willing that we are to pay for it. Sooner or later, we are either going to have to pay for journalism or we are all going to pay for it.”
The next day, following the segment, David Chavern, the president and CEO of the Virginia-based Newspaper Association of America criticized John Oliver for offering no solutions to the problem.
In an open letter, he wrote “The fact is that we are in a transitional phase within the entire industry. People want, need and consume more hard news than they ever have. The core demand for the product isn’t decreasing at all, and based upon that we will find our way to the far shore where the industry is thriving and growing once again. But in the meantime, there is going to be a lot of experimentation and evaluation of new business models. Some experiments will work and some won’t, and our VP of Innovation, Michael MaLoon is committed to keeping you up-to-date on what is happening on that front. But making fun of experiments and pining away for days when classified ads and near-monopolistic positions in local ad markets funded journalism is pointless and ultimately harmful.”
Then Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote a piece defending John Oliver that concludes to say “And I, in turn, have a suggestion for Mr. Chavern. When someone hilariously and poignantly celebrates the industry that you are paid to defend and protect, you ought to laugh at the funny parts and then simply say “thank you.” Or maybe nothing at all.”
Highlights are highlights but everyone, especially those in the marketing and public relations industry, must watch the entire episode. John Oliver clearly demonstrates the importance of local newspapers, outlines the reality of balancing business pressure and journalistic responsibility, while showing a detailed look at how the industry has changed over the past decade.